Email marketing is key for promoting your business. After an effective website, an informative and well designed email newsletter is one of your most important marketing tools.
If you really want to boost your email marketing, I highly recommend the newsletter/podcast of Blue Penguin Development. It’s one of those handful of newsletters that I really do read every issue of (yes, we all try to slim down that inbox with the delete key), because Michael Katz gives plain-spoken, entertaining guidance about what makes an effective newsletter – beyond the technical elements.
So, with so many choices of email marketing providers available, how do you go about choosing the best one for your company? Most of the “big” names offer the same core of basic services, differing mainly on additional features and pricing, which are easy to compare. [More on this in our guest Q&A below.] In my experience, it’s the features (or lack thereof) that you won’t really notice until you’re getting into the nitty-gritty of creating the email that can drive you nuts. None of them are earth-shattering, but hearing a client uses one particular provider over another is enough to make me give an internal “Yes!” or “Oh, man” when I find out which one I’ll have to work with.
- Is the dashboard intuitive and easy to use, especially when it comes to adding/deleting/editing recipient addresses?
- Do the available templates really work for you? Does it matter to you if readers recognize the same format from other newsletters? What kind of content and graphics layout do you need?
- If you do decide you need a custom designed template, do you have someone who can do that for you or will you need a provider that offers design services?
- How easy is it to actually create and format the newsletter? All Wysiwyg to HTML tools are NOT created equal in the user-friendly department.
Q&A with Luc Vezina, VP Marketing and Product Manager for Campaigner
With so many email marketing services on the market – how does a small business owner know which one is for them?
Most email marketing service providers offer a free trial that lets you evaluate the software before buying. Buyers should try the software to see if it has the right features their business needs and if it’s easy to use. Customer support is also crucial. Use your free trial period to run test campaigns to determine one of the most important factors – timely email delivery to the inbox.
Are the “top tier” email marketing services pretty much the same? Constant Contact, I guess is the most well known, there’s also Campaigner, iContact, Vertical Response and so many others.
The main differences are the feature set and how the service provider charges for the service. Some service providers have more advanced email marketing features such as segmentation and automation capabilities, which are becoming increasingly important for improving the targeting and timeliness of email campaigns. Other providers have diversified their feature set beyond email by adding blogging, or even features for executing postal mail campaigns. Most providers charge for these additional features and charge for the volume of email sent or the size of the contact list.
Again, in choosing a provider, small business owners must determine the feature set and pricing model that works best for their business. In the past, most small businesses conducted mass or what’s know as ‘blast’ email campaigns – sending the same message to their entire list. Most email service providers offer the basics to enable this type of communication. But businesses and consumers have become more sophisticated and more demanding. They want only specific types of information, offers and promotions at specific times. This is where the more advanced features such as segmentation and email automation play a role. Small businesses who want to ensure their email gets delivered and opened should be looking for more advanced features to help them improve overall campaign performance.
With the rise in blogs, is email marketing a bit “old fashioned”. Should small businesses move to blogs instead?
Blogging has its place in a company’s marketing plan but blogging is not direct marketing. Small businesses typically use email to promote their business to existing and prospective customers. Posting marketing messages to a blog doesn’t lend itself well to that kind of promotion. Email marketing is all about direct personal contact with individuals. Targeting and timing are crucial. Successful blogs offer an individual’s or a company’s viewpoints, opinions or expertise on relevant topics and issues. If anything, email marketing and blogs should be used in conjunction to complement each other.
What are some elements of some of the best email newsletters you’ve seen?
The best email newsletters (and also promotional emails) are clear, concise and relevant. They will engage subscribers for the long term. Newsletters that have high open rates often offer something of value beyond the promotion or hard sell. This could include tips, ‘how to,’ or practical information that your audience can use immediately.
In terms of strong campaigns, small businesses owners should keep the following objectives top of mind:
- Have a clear subject line that accurately describes the content of the email
- Contain information or offers that will interest the recipient
- Provide special offers or inside information not advertised to the public at large
- Maintain professionalism and accuracy at all times by ensure all campaigns are spell checked and nicely formatted
What are some common mistakes “newbie” email marketers make?
A few of the most common ‘newbie’ email marketing mistakes I’ve seen include the following:
- After seeing sales come in from the first campaign, sending too frequently, thus causing people to unsubscribe or worse, report the email as SPAM
- Not testing the creative before hitting send. Have a set of fresh eyes look at it before it goes out.
- Using a large GIF or JPEG image instead of HTML as the creative. Most email clients will block images in the message preview.
- And finally, not so much a newbie mistake, but an ongoing challenge for all marketers, especially small business owners strapped for time: failing to evaluate email marketing metrics and results to fine tune campaigns, create segmented lists and maintain list hygiene in order to continually improve campaign performance.
Laura Leites, Assistant Editor, Smallbiztechnology.com